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The book combines consideration of masculinities and the modern English (adult male) penal estate, engaging with the masculinities of prisoners as a privileged theme, looking beyond other variables such as age, race, and class to what connects the individuals experiencing them— their identities as men. Further to this, looking both at the general prison experience, and considering both negatives and positives from prisoners’ perspectives is different, as much research hones in on one particular element of imprisonment, or tends to focus upon the less desirable attributes and behaviours of prisoners. Finally, the triangulation of various prison experiences to include the individual, the social, and the female prison researcher is a new approach to prison research, engaging both with methodologies employed in traditional prison sociological studies, yet including an element of gendered reflexivity that tends to be lacking in many accounts of imprisonment.

The book begins by looking in more detail at the process of researching men in prison that guided this research, and the importance of placing the gendered researcher back into the recognised research process—too often, the researcher fails to consider their own part in the project and, when considering the fact that gender is (a) relative and (b) performative, this can lose a great amount of information regarding gendered and reactive behaviours that make up research data formed from prison ethnography. Chapters 3—5 look at the lived masculinities of men in prison that emerged from the research project as seen through the body, the impact of time, and the role of spaces on the gendered self, the relational aspects of the male prison experience, and the subsequent vulnerabilities of these men that they work so hard to hide. These chapters bring to the fore the ways in which men are placed into the feminine position in many unexpected ways.

Chapter 6 looks at the gendered prison experience as a whole, and how the different elements of masculinities seem to intersect with regard to notions of control (be that of the self or others), visibility, and a notion that I refer to as the ‘audience that matters’ (see also Sloan forthcoming[1]). This ‘audience that matters’ trope refers to the fact that, whilst men are constantly performing their masculinities, the audience that they perform for, and whose opinion(s) matter most to that individual, changes over the course of a man’s criminal career (and, subsequently, can have implications for successful desistance from crime in the long term). Linked to notions of social capital, this idea also allows this work to connect theories of masculinity (so often lacking) to the desistance literature (although see Hamilton 2015).

The book raises a number of issues adding to the debate about the functions and understandings of imprisonment, going to the very heart of theories of punishment, by putting men back at the centre—where they have arguably always been but are rarely truly seen.

  • [1] Many thanks in particular to Paula Hamilton for helping me to see the significance of this issue.
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